I’m a bit worn out after yesterday’s marathon review of America Unearthed, so today I have a few short items to discuss.
The Newark Decalogue Stone
First, archaeologist Brad Lepper has offered an important follow-up to Scott Wolter’s and J. Huston McCulloch’s claims about the Newark Decalogue Stone on Saturday’s episode of America Unearthed. In that episode Wolter asserted that the stone artifact, which was found in 1860 in Ohio and features a carved image of Moses surrounded by Hebrew lettering, has “passed” the scrutiny of skeptics in its use of Hebrew and that it contains no trace of nineteenth-century manufacturing techniques. Lepper shows that Wolter’s points are utter rubbish and he is either intentionally deceitful or is utterly incompetent as a geologist or an investigator of history.
According to Lepper, experts in Hebrew examined the lettering on the stone and declared it a forgery. These experts included Frank Moore Cross of Harvard University (and therefore one of the “academics” who suppress the truth), who found the forgery “grotesque.” Jeff Gill proved that the lettering used on the stone could not predate the standardized nineteenth century Hebrew alphabet. Worse, an archaeologist hired by the museum housing the stone to make a cast of it discovered grinding marks from a nineteenth century grinding wheel on the back of the stone, which are most probably an area the forger forgot to polish when fabricating the artifact.
Somehow Wolter “missed” this evidence in his examination of the stone.
Be sure to read Lepper’s entire piece, with valuable links to additional work on the stone.
Ancient Aliens in the Funny Pages, Where They Belong
I also want to point everyone to yesterday’s B.C. comic strip, which offered a funny take on the ancient astronaut theory. A space alien arrives to deliver a truly important technological breakthrough: plans for a pyramid, which the characters take about as well as you’d expect.
Last night was the “midseason finale” of AMC’s The Walking Dead, and in honor of that, be sure to buy my new eBook Mini A Brief History of Zombies, a 10,000-word collection of my writings on zombies newly edited into a single, long-form history of the zombie, with some new material added as well. As for The Walking Dead, I don’t know how much longer I can continue to watch it. The show is unrelentingly grim to the point of nihilism; there is no purpose to the story except as an exercise in sadism. Are we supposed to enjoy watching all of the characters be miserable reenacting the same plot (find safe place, fight with each other, watch zombies overrun it, lather, rinse, repeat) with increasingly violent results? I just feel unclean and a bit depressed after watching the show. Traditional art could be dark and grim, but as Aristotle noted, that grimness served to lead to catharsis. By the nature of an ongoing drama series, there can be no true catharsis since the show, and its misery and suffering, must continue until cancellation.
Fingerprints of the Encyclopedia
Finally, as you know I’ve been trying to assemble an anthology of the “ancient texts” used by fringe writers to support various wacky ideas. To do so, I’m going one by one through fringe books and extracting the references to ancient material. I’m working on Graham Hancock’s Fingerprints of the Gods, which I will admit I have not reexamined in great detail for a decade. Holy crap. It’s worse than I remembered. Hancock said that while he no longer believes the book’s theory that Antarctica was the home of his lost civilization, the book’s “strength” lies in its “handling” of mythology. That’s a strength? I sought in vain for direct references to actual ancient texts; every time there was a quote from an ancient text relating to a myth, he sourced it to one of a handful of encyclopedias of mythology—often claiming the encyclopedia summary (too often quoted incorrectly) as a genuine ancient source.
In several cases, he repeated incorrect information from those encyclopedias (or simply misunderstood the encyclopedia altogether), and in others he failed to distinguish between material quoted directly from ancient texts and modern summaries, paraphrases, and interpretations. In turn, this has made it almost impossible to trace back some of his assertions to whatever the original source was that stood behind the encyclopedia entry. Hancock certainly doesn’t know; for him everything in the encyclopedia is equally valid across time and space regardless of the sources the encyclopedia writer used.
But the kicker came when I encountered a reference I didn’t remember at all. On pages 204 and 205, Hancock quotes a long story that he attributes to Norse myth but whose exact wording is actually cited to the error-ridden New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology. According to Hancock, the story uses allegory to “recall a cataclysm of awesome magnitude” in which the earth was destroyed, two humans hid inside of a tree to escape a global catastrophe, and they emerged into a new world. “The new world this Teutonic myth announces is our own. Needless to say, like the Fifth Sun of the Aztecs and the Maya, it was created long ago and is new no longer.”
The story sounded awfully familiar, but I could recall no Norse myth of a prehistoric destruction of the world yielding our own world. Then I remembered where I had read the story before: It’s Snorri Sturlson’s description of Ragnarok from the Prose Edda (Gylfaginning 51-53), or, more directly, it is the Voluspa, the first poem of the Poetic Edda, which was Snorri’s source. Yes, Graham Hancock managed to completely misunderstand the future apocalypse and move it into the past to make it into an analogue of the Fifth Sun and Noah’s Ark. I checked the Larousse and it correctly identifies this as a future event. The mistake is Hancock’s own.
Some days it seems as though every single fact, no matter how small, a fringe writer cites is wrong.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter, The Skeptical Xenoarchaeologist, for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities, and subscribe to Culture & Curiosities, my Substack newsletter.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.